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‘Tannery Row’ open for business

LANDON  MAU, owner of Creations and Illustrations, moved his business this summer from the 800 block of First Street to the Tannery. Donna Beth Weilenman/Staff

■ City icon suddenly teeming with tenants, and optimism is high

By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

Last year, the historic brick building near Benicia’s waterfront had mostly empty storefronts. The Tannery was in foreclosure, and its few tenants were worried about the future of their businesses.

But the spaces are filling up again, from Bill Parsons’s gallery that has survived a time the artist called “scary,” to Char’s Hot Dogs, which returned to its old location after spending time at a storefront farther north on First Street.

Landon Mau was drawn to the building now called Tannery Row after he realized it would let him enlarge his business, gallery and tattoo studio Creations and Illustrations, into a larger, two-story site with more room to show the works of additional artists.

“We have five artists here now,” Mau said.

He’s starting with a very soft opening — “No one knows where we’re at” — and he’s still busy redecorating and remodeling his space, laying new floor, rearranging the upstairs, setting up his office and covering a coffin that will become a couch.

Mau and other business owners are looking ahead to Tannery Row’s official grand opening Aug. 18. And they hope — and some expect — it will be a destination for those who remember the days of heading to Benicia because antique, vintage and consignment shops were plentiful here.

Most tenants have had similar soft openings, and want to be ready either for introduction during Saturday’s Peddlers’ Fair or by the Aug. 18 event.

Denise Edenfield, owner of the Nest, opened her store this week. She has lamps, pencils, a manual typewriter, furniture and other decor items that match Benicia’s love of things vintage, antique and artistic.

“We’re actually full,” she said of Tannery Row. She said Joe Lopez, who bought the Tannery last November, is converting a large space into an additional mall so more stores can open.

BUSINESS owners like Denise Edenfield are leading a resurgence in the Tannery. Donna Beth Weilenman/Staff

“He’s doing wonderful, wonderful things at the Tannery. He’s a good-hearted man,” she said.

And the new tenants, some of whom are still moving in, have been talking, especially to each other.

“We’re working as a team,” Edenfield said. “Everyone gets along like family.”

She said existing, returning and new tenants are “doing a beautiful job with the interiors,” and when the renovation is complete the new section will be “like going down a street, with flower boxes and windows.”

Jack Stenson, Jodi Gollnick and Karen McCullough are friends who are collaborating on Fabulous Finds, so full of antiques, vintage items, international finds and other items that they’re combining two stores into one and opening a satellite store called Fabulous Finds Too.

They’re not open yet, but expect to be ready for the Aug. 18 event.

“It’s international. It’s eclectic,” said McCullough as she tried to find a single classification for the collection of treasures. “We have one of everything. If you can’t find it here, if it’s not here this week, it will be here next week.”

“It’s Benicia,” Gollnick said.

The trio said they’re excited to be working together, to have their own business and to open in the historic Tannery building.

“It’s a beautiful building, and a lovely location,” Stenson said.

“It’s a vintage building, vintage people and vintage stuff,” McCullough said.

Like other tenants, Gollnick said the trio like what they’ve heard from Lopez, particularly his plans for renovating the waterfront side of the building. “He’s got vision,” she said.

Charlene Herd opened her hot dog stand at the Tannery in 1993, and renamed it “Char’s.” Under the building’s past management, she decided to leave and move to another First Street location.

“You heard the story,” she said. Past tenants said the previous owners raised rents and tried to supplant former businesses with similar ones of their own.

Those owners, John Hernandez and James Morgan, also discovered they would be required to extend the Bay Trail around the building, a financial setback that complicated their plans for the Tannery.

CHARLENE HERD, owner of Char’s Hot Dogs, and her grandson and partner Josh Branum, moved their business back to the Tannery. Donna Beth Weilenman/Staff

The trail work, required by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, should have been triggered when the building’s use changed from industrial to commercial. But the agency hadn’t been notified of the change until Hernandez and Morgan sought permits for their plans.

After Lopez bought the building, Herd said, “I came back.” She brought her grandson and partner, Josh Branum, with her.

After the move, she expanded her menu to include hamburgers, French fries, sweet potato fries and other items.

She explained why she moved back to her old spot. “It has a new owner. He’s fixing it up, back the way it used to be.”

“The way it used to be” was a shopping and dining destination site on the lower end of First Street.

“This was the hub of Benicia,” Herd said.

Next to her, in the place where an Irish pub, O’Leary’s, operated for decades, is Cullen’s, owned by Dennis and Denise Cullen. It’s a new business, but the Cullens have plenty of hospitality businesses.

Greeting visitors is Remy, a sulphur-crested cockatoo who enjoys the company of patrons, Denise Cullen said. “It’s his place,” she said.

At the other end of the Tannery, Parsons did most of the renovation of his gallery before Lopez bought the building, opening it up to catch the waterfront views and brightening his space.

When other tenants left, he stayed, sometimes opening the doors wider and putting out a sign so people would know his gallery was still inside.

“It was scary for a while,” he said, though shoppers and students still dropped by when he made sure they knew he wasn’t closed. “I wondered what would happen to me.”

But more are coming in now that he has neighbors again. “It’s been good since Joe.”

He likes “the spirit he brought to the building,” he said.

“I like the fact Joe wants it to be a retail center, and do everything by the book,” he said. “He loves this building. It’s a great new day.”

DENNIS CULLEN, left, owner of Cullen’s Tannery Pub, which opened Thursday. Donna Beth Weilenman/Staff